Taylor Cowan • November 13, 2023
Gifts: Care and Gratitude. Our Final Collection of 2023.
“Give each of your guests your full attention.” -Chanoyu tenet
Tea, in its thousand and one different faces, is always about hospitality. Its enjoyment spans all humanity and yet in every culture (each with their own disparate worldviews and values) tea comes to ultimately signify the same thing. Tea is about respect, giving welcome, and showing those that we share space with how we care about them. It is foundational—something that goes back as long as the history of the beverage itself.
It’s a gift that’s hard to hate. I often tell inquiring friends how I don’t think anyone can be disappointed with a gift of tea—even if they’re not a major drinker, even if they like coffee etc. Everyone should have tea in their cabinet. Whenever a friend sees it and associates tea as a gift from you—versus a bottle of liquor or a carafe that never gets used, or a piece of decor that gets stashed away in the guest bedroom—it’s a very pleasant association. Tea is a gift of calm, health, an invitation to presence, a soothing companion during the working day or a gateway to the innermost sanctum of our consciousness.
How could any one thing be so universal? But it’s no fluke that tea is the most consumed beverage worldwide. The reason that tea transcends cultures is because it unifies and, at the tea table, makes all equal. I can not remember the exact source but there is a saying in tea, a reference from a summit of opposing generals in an ancient war that “It is impossible to be mad at each other at the table.” Tea is a powerful unifier, bringing people together, transcending differences, and fostering a sense of community in the pandemonium of modern life. Community is a word that is often abused—which is a horrid reality we live in, because community, true community is essential. Tea fosters true community.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Though we teaists obsess over the accoutrements; the quality and source of the water; the precise weight of leaves and water; the thermodynamics of the shape of a teapot; the resonance of a media and patina; there is truly only one thing that matters: making tea with your whole heart for your guests. In this sense, there is much less barrier to entry than most believe.
Let it not be mistaken, there are (actually) thousands of temae, rules, and conditions in tea ceremonies about the preparation and sharing of tea. For instance, when a host is pouring water over tea leaves, one ought to pour counter-clockwise so that one makes the gesture of “come in” instead of “shoo!” The tea maker always drinks last, only after every guest has been served their cup. But while fine wares and considerations can certainly heighten the focus and attention of a tea ceremony, sharing tea need not be fussy. Great tea is un-fussy, without pretension, it is simply and impossibly an expression of a host’s sincerity and thoughtfulness towards those present.
Care, consideration, and regard for others well being. When we think of another we love, and when we choose a gift for them, our attention shifts from self to others. Self to others. It is a privilege to be able to do so and unlocks joys untold. Shifting our thoughts from self to others is all too rare. Tea is an expression of sincerity, magnanimity, kindness, hospitality. Though difficult to put into concise words, the true meaning of hospitality is impossible to fake. When someone is taking care of you, extending their thoughts and having your back, you notice it. When someone is putting on a performance out of obligation, you also know it.
When one chooses a gift, extending their thoughts and feelings beyond themselves to the recipient, they experience the happiness of giving. What kind of tea do they like? How would they be most likely to prepare it? What will help them feel at ease in a distressing day? What will make them feel comforted? What will inspire them when they make a cup of tea? ❃